It’s a familiar pattern – an organization becomes successful, stays that way for a while, then gradually or suddenly, profits start to slip. Leadership scrambles, cuts back, reorganizes, but it only slows the decline. Why? Because what got you here won’t keep you here, and it certainly won’t take you to the next level.
In sports, when a supposedly inferior team wins the big game, commentators often say it was because the underdog was hungrier. However, once they have achieved that pinnacle, few teams are able to sustain that level of success in the ensuing years. They are then referred to as having lost their hunger to win. In business and in innovation it is much the same. The ones who never lose their hunger are constantly looking to do the next big thing, Those who do not think that way fall into feeling comfortable and want to squeeze as much out of their victory as possible. Inevitably someone else comes along and takes the ring away.
Disruption will always come. The only question to be answered is whether it comes from you or your competitor. You need to become the disruption you want to see before the competition disrupts you.
And that requires visionary leadership – not management. Management is what enables you to keep doing what you are doing because it is comfortable. In many ways it impels you to do that which you have always done – our brains seem to be wired to seek out comfort and then to shut down once we achieve it. But we should resist this urge to be always seeking comfort. Comfort, though comforting, can breed stagnation which kills creativity. And continuous improvement, though it helps us to become more efficient and effective in what we already do, it is not creative and won’t get us to the next level.
It takes a lot of guts to make your own existing products obsolete. The tech landscape is littered with those who were incapable or unwilling to do just that due to their feeling comfort in having arrived at a pinnacle. This is why leadership is critical to success. Visionary leaders help their organizations pursue creative disruptions. Once they reach a pinnacle they seek the next one to conquer.
As the beer ad says, you need to stay thirsty. Sticking with the status quo is often the most perilous choice you can make.
So what do you think? Is success a killer of innovation? I look forward to hearing from you.